Nirad Chaudhuri (Was Re: Greek and Latin in India)

S Krishna mahadevasiva at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Feb 16 23:20:38 UTC 1998

Dominik Wujastyk says:
>On Sun, 15 Feb 1998, S Krishna wrote:
<<I find his [Chaudhuri's] works a more academic version of Katherine
Mayo's "Mother India" or Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses", people whose
main incentive for writing seems to be indulging in invective>>

Sorry, I can't let that one pass.  First, freedom of speech allows you
toimpute "incentive" to whomever you like, of course.  But if you expect
to have your claims taken seriously in an academic forum like INDOLOGY,
you can't just present condemnations of that kind without justification.
You have to back up your claim with genuine scholarship on the
topic,especially if your claim is that controversial.

<<At the risk of starting a flame war on a topic rather inappropriate

This is the only thing, Dominik, on which I agree with you...Since you
are looking for "genuine scholarship" on the subject, I will being
up different people/scholars/editors and leave it to you to decide
what is what....(I assume you want to know about Rushdie and MAyo since
I've given the name of the text and specific topic on the
basis of which the comments on Nirad babu were made)

 I had said that Nirad babu's works are a more academic variety of
Rushdie's works and MAyo's works in that they misrepresent things,
and are known for their invective.....

  I will also prove that Rushdie jee is as provincial as Nirad Babu
(The difference being that Nirad babu thinks that Bengal can speak for
India, Rushdie thinks that Indian/Urdu writers are the best in the
whole of the Indian sub-continent)

  In the case of Rushdie, the first thing that one notices on reading
his works i.e. Midnight's Children, Shame and Satanic Verses is the
frequent use of four letter words...some soul once counted the number
of four letter words that are found all over Satanic Verses and
found that a four letter word could be expected atleast once in every
page. I am not sure of what is the literary purpose of all
prove his expertise/familarity with four letter words? Well, if this
what he was trying to prove, I suppose that he can take pride in the
fact that his vocabulary would put the fisherwomen of Billingsgate
to shame, the difference being that they are not paid millions of pounds
to swear at and abuse people right, left and center. Trevor-Roper for
example says that if Rushdie were to be hit in some back street, then
his "Manners would improve"..this is the result
of his being so free with invective...

  The main thread in "Satanic Verses"  is the Al-Gharaniq incident in
the Quran about the admissibility of the Gods MAnat,
Al Lat and Al Uzza in ISlam. Even assuming and granting that the
incident is true( a controversial assumption in itself), Rushdie
generalizes the whole thing( the actual lines that were abrogated are
just two and form part of just one ayat in one surah) to suggest that
the whole of the Quran was revealed by the Devil( it parallels Nirad
Babu's technique of lifting a single practice from the Vaishnavas of
Bengal, and then generalizing it to be representative of all the
Vaishnavas). This is a fine case of mixing fact with fiction to brew a
strong concoction that primarily serves the  purpose of getting the cash
registers to ring. As you may be knowing,there exists in London a very
elite club consisting of journalists, academics and novelists called the
Page 15 club" whose common feature is that they've never read beyondPage
15 of any of Rushdie's books. The books they tell us, are "dense",
"convoluted", "unreadable" and "full of vile abuse".
(This fact was referred to by the NYer which ran an article on Rushdie (
Will dig up the exact reference if you want me to))

 As far as his proclivity towards sensationalism is concerned, we have
Roald Dahl who assures us that Rushdie "deliberately" sensationalized
"Satanic Verses" in order to make it a best seller. The same holds true
of Nirad Babu, who makes the claim that the Brahmins tampered with
things in order to make Sanskrit look  greater and older; as
inscriptions indicate, it should be Prakrit that came in earlier...
such stuff will immideatly[sic] increase sales since all DMK wallahs,
and JNU based historians will make a bee line for purchasing this book
since it supports their own convoluted brand of thinking...Net result:
Sales go up and one achieves name and fame the easy way... These are the
commonalities between the worthy souls of Rushdie and Nirad babu, both
of whom personify the antiquated concept of the Brown Saheb...

<<that Rushdie's book was anything but a witty,
flamboyant, funny, and closely-observed piece of well-written fiction,
very much in the vein of his earlier Midnight's Children.>>

The difficulty, dear Dominik, is that much of the invective is actually
in URdu/Hindi..please reread  "Satanic Verses" and count
the number oftimes he uses the Hindi expression "BehanC****" (
and also find out the meaning, since I would desist from translating
such stuff here)...non-Hindi speakers may think of it is as a very cute,
exotic kind of expression, but I am sure that all Hindi speakers would
beg to disagree..... As for his *witty*( to quote you)versification, you
seem to think:
"Being God's postman is no fun, yaaar!
Butbutbut!.........(Can't remember what comes here)
God knows whose postman I've been"
(I've paraphrased the verse since I don't the book with me right now)
is an example of splendid versification and rivals Edward Lear's
Limericks, but I ( and I'm in distinguished company here, Khuswant
Singh thinks so too) think it the kind of doggerel that would do
an adolescent is certainly not the kind of stuff that would
help win an author the Baker Prize or the Noble Prize( he was nominated
for the Noble Prize 2 or 3 years ago)

And yes, the whole thing is *fiction*...he wrote some nonsense about
Indira Gandhi in "Midnights Children" and she responded by suing him
on "defamation" grounds; Rushdie jee was forced to apologize and accept
that the fact that he had passed off *fiction* about Indira Gandhi as

As far as the provincialism thing is concerned, Nirad jee confines
himself to Bengal..Rushdie declares very confidently that the best
writing in India is in English and URdu( as announced in  the NYer
last year, a very interesting coincidence being that these are only two
languages that he knows)..has this creature read anything, in say,
Kannada( with 6 Jnanpiths) or Malayalam( with 4 Jnanpiths). Does this
creatureeven know where these languages are spoken? His knowledge of
Indian history and geography is terrible...he gets the date of the
construction of the Babri MAsjid wrong by a whole century!!!!
(This is in his latest work "The Moor's last sigh!")
<<Katherine Mayo is a very interesting case.  I don't know much about
herbackground or motives, and I shall certainly take time now to find
out a bit more.  But I did read her book years ago, and remember coming
awaywith the sense of someone who had come far closer than most people
to the disease and poverty in the India of her time, and who found it an
affront to her sense of common humanity.>>

Please read C.S.Ranga Iyer's "Father India" which is a good rebuttal
of "Mother India". As for her finding "disease in India an affront
to humanity", all that I can say is that Mahatma Gandhi, whose
humanitarian approach/credentials can hardly be doubted, pronounced the
following judgement on her book "A Drain Inspectors Report!"
THe 18th century Punjabi mystic Bulleh Shah tells us time and again "You
reach outfor what flies in the skies, but overlook what you have at
home"..verypertinent in the case of Katherine Mayo...the good lady
journeyed to India to discover slavery, poverty and what have you...what
a waste of time and money when better examples could have been found
among the African-Americans in the South. It is said that Winston
Churchillwas asked( when on a visit to America) as to why the condition
of the Indians was so bad/ why were they being persecuted ? Pat came his
reply "Which Indians are you taking about? Indians in
India or Indians in America?"( refering to native Indians)...The likes
of Mayo would do themselves a lot of good by reflecting upon this

  I can hold forth on this topic, my friend, but as said before, this
is essentially off topic and I wouldn't like to bore you any more than I
have. But I do hope the people whom I've quoted  to back up my statement
will convince you that there is some depth and meaning in what I said


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